If I Tell - By Janet Gurtler

chapter one

My heart raced as I stumbled down the steps. I needed to make sure I wasn’t having a horrible hallucination, but I really wished that someone had spiked my soda and that drugs were distorting my reality. Like I was witnessing a train wreck, I wanted to look away but couldn’t take my eyes off them.

Two people in a drunken clutch, their arms and legs pressed up against the wall. Two people who had absolutely no right to be locking lips—or any other body parts, for that matter.

I opened my mouth, but nothing came out. The only sound I could manage was an incoherent, panicky mumble. I turned and ran back up the stairs, pushing through a swarm of bodies until I was out of the house.


“Jaz.” My mom’s voice called my name and I jumped, spilling hot decaf mocha on my hand. Normally the fragrance of specialty coffees soothed me, but on this day Grinds smelled pretty much like burnt beans.

“Ouch! You okay? Sorry I startled you. It looks like you’re in your own world back there.”

“I’m fine.” My hand stung, but I placed the coffee cup on the counter where the employees of Grinds arranged finished drinks like expensive steaming trophies. “Just working on a song in my head,” I lied, shaking my scalded hand. “This decaf mocha is yours? It’s not your usual caffeine fix.”

“I know.” She reached for the drink. “You and your song writing.” She half smiled as she took a quick sip, then licked stray foam off her top lip. “We’ll sit and chat before we go shopping?”

“Sure. Talk is cheap.” I forced a smile of my own. I should have canceled and told her to go shopping without me. But I had to tell her what I’d seen. How could I not?

“Cheaper than this coffee anyway.” She turned her head to search the café for an open table. “I’ll find a seat. Grab a drink and join me when you’re done, okay?”

She sashayed off without waiting for my answer, disappearing into the semi-full coffee shop. Grinds is our town’s attempt to give Starbucks competition. Amber, the owner, hopes coffee will be her own personal lottery since Tadita is so close to Seattle.

I checked the clock. Five minutes until my shift ended. What I really wanted to do was bolt out the back door and jog home. That wouldn’t mean breaking much of a sweat. I could crawl into my bed and pull the covers over my head before Mom noticed I’d left Grinds.

Sighing, I checked for new customers. No one approached the front counter with an urgent coffee craving, so I hurried to the back sink and shoved my hand under cold water to soothe the burn from the spilled coffee.

As I ran the water, a tall guy wearing a Grinds getup strolled through the employee door, tying the strings of an apron behind his back. Longish hair as black as charcoal brushed the shoulders of his white T-shirt. Hello, hot. Jackson Morgan, the new boy at Westwind High. Supposedly he’d failed kindergarten and had just gotten out of some school for delinquent boys. For dealing drugs. But I managed to stay composed when he nodded at me.

“Hey, Jaz. How’s it going?” He sounded amused, as if he’d just remembered a good joke.

“Uh. Fine.” He knew my name? He was in my English class, but like everyone else, he hadn’t bothered to acknowledge my existence. Until now.

“Excellent.” A pause. His mouth turned up in a crooked grin, and his eyes sparkled. “I’m fine too, by the way. Thanks for asking.”

So much for composed. My cheeks burned and I studied my shoes, not sure how to reply. People generally didn’t talk to me much. I never had to worry about what to say back.

“I’m just kidding.” His voice was soft, almost apologetic, and I glanced up, noticing how nice and straight his teeth were.

“I know.”

He was looking at me, his eyes narrowed like he was trying to figure something out. I blushed even more at the scrutiny. “No need to be shy. I don’t bite.”

I was torn between wanting him to leave me alone so I didn’t have to come up with more to say and wanting him to keep talking. He’d already gone deeper than a lot of people did. Most kids at school assumed I was stuck-up. And that was almost better than shy. Shy made me feel like a failure. I took a step back and reached for my bracelet, rubbing